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What is Low Self-Esteem?

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

What is low self-esteem?

Your self-esteem reflects how you think about yourself, how you judge yourself, and your sense of value and worth. Therefore, low self-esteem means thinking badly of yourself, judging yourself unfavourably and feeling you have little or no value/worth.

In contrast, ‘healthy’ self-esteem means have a balanced view of yourself, one which recognises and accepts your human weaknesses, but also appreciates your strength and good qualities.

Understanding your own self-esteem is the first step making changes to work towards a more compassionate version of yourself.

How does low self-esteem develop?

Negative beliefs lie at the heart of low self-esteem. These shape your everyday thoughts, feelings and actions, and can have a painful impact on many areas of your life. The role of low self-esteem varies – it can be an aspect or a consequence of current problems, or it can be something that has made us vulnerable to a whole range of other difficulties. Either way, the extent to which it disrupts daily life varies from person to person.

We need to remember that your negative beliefs about yourself are opinions, not facts. Just because you've thought something, doesn't make it a fact, including about yourself. Instead, they are usually conclusions about yourself based on experience (usually, but not necessarily, early experience). A broad range of experiences, including both the presence of negative and the lack of positives, can contribute to them.

It can be hard to change your beliefs about yourself because they can be kept in place and strengthened by biases in thinking. For example, experiences that are consistent with it are readily attended to and given weight (e.g., not performing at the level you'd like), while experiences that contradict it are ignored or discounted (e.g., when things are going well).

These beliefs also impact on how you behave in life. You may behave in ways that help you to function, give that you assume your beliefs about yourself are true. Such as working extra hard or long hours to hide that you are* incompetent, inferior or stupid (*which is your belief, not fact). In fact, these behaviours jus maintain the low self-esteem.

What keeps self-esteem going?

Your negative beliefs about yourself (e.g., not good enough) feel very strong when you are unable to do the activities/behaviours that compensate for that belief. These behaviours (e.g., work extra long hours or plan excessively) are actually the things that maintain the low self-esteem, increase anxiety and lower mood.

Uncertainty and self-doubt lead to negative predictions – anticipating the worst and assuming there is little or nothing you can do to prevent it. Negative predictions produce anxiety and also impact on behaviour, leading to complete avoidance, adopting unnecessary precautions or genuine disruptions in performance. Even if things go well, the prejudice you have against yourself makes it difficult to recognise or accept this. The end result is that you believe/find more ‘evidence’ that your beliefs about yourself are true. Confirmation then triggers self-critical thinking, which may spiral into rumination. Self-critical thinking leads to changes in behaviour and mood, which may develop into a depressive state. Lower mood continues your belief about yourself and completes the negative cycle.

Is this something you can help with?

At Willow Psychology Service, we help a lot of people with low self-esteem issues. Feel free to get in touch to organise a free consultation to find out more.

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